Following the four week county break Eccles Ladies returned to league action with a difficult away trip to third place Carlisle. Earlier in the season Carlisle had edged a tight encounter at Gorton Street so Eccles were looking for revenge.
Perhaps it was that vengeful spirit, or simply the chance to get back on the field again, but Eccles started the game like they’d never been away. Strong running from Katie Houghton and Vickie Merrick was getting the team going forward and created a couple of chances out wide that almost came off. The aggression from the scrum was much improved and piled the pressure on. This paid off on the 12 minute mark as Rebecca Owen crashed through and grounded the ball right on the line.
This score seemed to spring Carlisle into life and they came back strongly. Their fly half caught the defence napping on the blind side and ran nearly the length of the field. She couldn’t go all the way but in scrambling back Eccles conceded a penalty which was kicked right into the corner. From the resulting line-out, Carlisle caught and drove over to level the scores. Both sides were playing at a high tempo now and the game was a joy to watch. But with Eccles pressing forward the ball went to ground out wide. What followed was a comedy of errors and confusion and while most were trying to work out what was happening the Carlisle full back pounced on the ball, kicked ahead and used her pace to score from 60 yards out. This gave them the half time lead, 10-5.
During the interval the talk was about cutting out the errors and penalties, and staying patient. But the patience wasn’t required for long as the second half started with some great play from Eccles, seeing the ball moved through multiple hands before Alex Stokes cut through to just short of the line before putting Barbara Daher in for her first ever try, and bringing the scores back level. The equilibrium lasted a little longer but on the 53 minute mark the Carlisle prop was able to drive her way over the line and put the home team back in front.
After going behind again Eccles could have been forgiven for losing focus but this was never the case. Strong running from Shelley Powe and Igz Ekoku got the team going forward again allowing the forwards to show off some silky hands to send Sadie Light across in the corner and restore parity.
With 18 minutes left the pace of the game was taking its toll on the hosts and the only team that looked like winning were Eccles. More good running from Titch, Alex and Stacey Bruce were creating chances but the final pass wasn’t coming off. With time running out it looked like a second draw of the season could be on the cards, but with the final play of the game Selena Lockyer found herself in space and backed herself to make it to the corner. The ref’s decision seemed to take an age (it probably wasn’t) but he finally raised his arm to indicate the winning try, 20-15.
The result was no more than the team deserved after a fantastic performance, with Rebecca Owen and Igz Ekoku named as Forward and Back of the Match respectively Eccles go into the Christmas break knowing the battle for third place in the league is well and truly on when they resume in January with more away days to Novocastrians (Newcastle) and Buckingham. Before then the Ladies will be participating in the Christmas festivities when they host Glossop in the Dave Bennett Cup, at Gorton Street on Saturday 22nd December, 14.00 kick off.